I listen to all kinds of music but there has always been one genre that holds my heart over the others: Hip Hop. It’s the only genre that I follow regularly and anticipate releases for. This year was a huge year in Hip Hop with monoliths like Drake and Kanye releasing music alongside new comers like J.I.D. and 21 Savage. Even recluses such as Earl Sweatshirt and MF DOOM got in on the action this year. This isn’t a ranking everyone will like or agree with… though I encourage everyone to make their own top 7 in the comments below. This is my top 7 favorite albums of 2018 and it consists of what I thought was the best and what I listen to the most. If anything, I hope it opens somebody’s eyes to an artist or album they hadn’t heard this past year. Without further ado, we start with the honorable mentions:
- Iridescence by Brock Hampton
- Kamikaze by Eminem
- Kids See Ghosts by Kanye West and Kid Cudi
- Vacation in Hell by Flatbush Zombies
- White Bronco by Action Bronson
- Oxnard by Anderson .Paak
7. Fetti by Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist
Standouts: The Blow, New Thangs, Bundy and Sincere
- “Oxycontin pack, I be switchin’ rackets like Djokovic” – Freddie Gibbs, The Blow
- “Uh, white and yellow Airmax as I step out my Lac//Plus I smell like a pack, little cologne mixed with that” – Curren$y, New Thangs
- “Rockin’ Virgil Airmax, Off-White cook crack” – Freddie, New Thangs
- “This jet life shit, ESGN, sippin’ juice and gin//Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind//Money and yo’ bitch, both on my line//Told shawty that I can’t make it//Told money I’ll be on the way, quick – Spitta, Bundy & Sincere
In one sentence… Two “underground-but-not-really” emcees in the prime of their careers with a classic Alchemist soundscape.
Why? This album really starts and ends with The Alchemist. Filling it with samples and beats that both Spitta and Gibbs are comfortable with and giving it a cohesive feel and sound. Curren$y and Freddie have both proven versatile throughout their careers and their longevity in the game (including stints at major labels) has given them legitimacy in all Hip Hop circles. Besides the mutual respect for each other, their voices and styles mesh well together as well. Hazy, drug-induced rap just delivered differently. Curren$y with his lazy, off the tongue stoner flow and Freddie with his slightly more aggressive punch line filled stoner flow mesh perfectly and combine for one of my favorite projects of the year.
6. KOD by J. Cole
When J. Cole found out I ranked his album #6….
Standouts: KOD, Motiv8, Kevin’s Heart, 1985 – Intro to “The Fall Off”
- “Haven’t you heard? I’m a cold as the tip//Tip of the iceberg that tipped the Titanic//No tip toein’ around it, my shit is gigantic//As big as the fuckin’ Atlantic, I’m lit, bitch”- KOD
- “He exempt, Shawn Kemp, he keep that .40 on him” – Motiv8
- “We wasn’t s’posed to get past 25//Joke’s on you motherfucker, we alive” – 1985
- “One day, them kids that’s listening gon’ grow up//And get too old for that shit that made you blow up” – 1985
- “Just remember what I told you when your shit flop//In five years you gon’ be on Love & Hip Hop” – 1985
In one sentence… Hard-hitting subject matter with a surprisingly lighthearted and dare I say jovial J. Cole results in the most fun album of his career.
Why? This album deals with vices and addiction and at it’s core, it has a sobering message: KOD has a threefold meaning. Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons. That being said, this album is still fun as hell. J. Cole raps his ass off per usual but he also sells his soul to the devil for a few verses and raps just like the rap counterparts he’s admonishing. Switching up his flow effortlessly on KOD, completely changing his voice on Motiv8 and finally, the lyrical evisceration of the current rap climate in 1985 – Intro to “The Fall Off.” That’s three albums in a row now where a Cole album has gone platinum with no features and while people may deride that achievement, he continues to make classic albums.
5. Swimming by Mac Miller
Standouts: Wings, Ladders, Small Worlds, 2009
- “I ain’t feeling broken no more” – Wings
- “Still ain’t addin’ up, I’ll let you know when I’ve had enough, yeah” – Wings
- “We don’t need nothing but today” – Small Worlds
- “Yeah, okay you gotta jump in to swim//Well, the light was dim in this life of sin//Now every day I wake up and breathe//I don’t have it all but that’s alright with me” – 2009
In one sentence… a ringing triumph of positivity and perseverance in overcoming one’s challenges in life yet also the sad, tragic, final album from a talented, tortured soul.
Why? This one was by far the hardest for me to write about. Malcolm James McCormick’s untimely death looms over this album but Mac Miller, the rapper, helps him live on through his music. Re-reading some of these lyrics and listening to the album gives you an eerie feeling but you can’t help but feel the positive message seeping through. You also can’t help but notice the massive leaps Mac Miller made on this album musically. It’s perfectly crafted down to every last second and sounds immaculate from beginning to end. You can feel his touch and influence through every aspect of this album. This is an album that will be listened to and broken down for many years to come.
Bonus: This tiny desk concert is a must for any Mac fans who haven’t seen it
4. Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt
Standouts: Nowhere2go, December 24, The Mint, Playing Possum
- “Tryna refine this shit, I redefined myself//First I had to find it – Nowhere2go
- “Bad apple, daily clashin’ with my knifolk//Bad acid did damage to my mental” – December 24
- “Say Goodbye to my openness, total eclipse//Of my shine that I’ve grown to miss when holding shit in” – Eclipse
- “Earl is not my name, the world is my domain, kid” – Veins
In one sentence… Disjointed, free-flowing, filled with hidden meanings and dense wordplay, Earl Sweatshirt crafts his most natural album.
Why? Earl’s flow and ability to weave sentences and words together has always been his greatest strength. On this album, he takes that to the extreme. This album feels like one long song. A snapshot into the life of Thebe Kgositsile performing as Earl Sweatshirt. It’s dark and gritty like we expect from Earl but it’s also incredibly vulnerable. Playing Possum was meant as an olive branch to his separated parents as he weaves a speech by his mother and a poem read by his father into one cohesive narrative. It’s a beautiful and unique album and it’s rare to find someone who consistently meets your expectations as Earl does for me.
Bonus: click the links below to check out my other Earl posts from this year
3. Czarface Meets Metal Face by CZARFACE and MF DOOM
Standouts: Meddle with Metal, Forever People, Phantoms, Bomb Thrown
- “Boom-bap ambassador, track master hot as Africa sand//Movin’ bodies like a human trafficker” – Inspectah Deck, Meddle with Metal
- “Wack rappers get spit on through the pearly gates” – MF DOOM, Meddle with Metal
- “My entrance, fly Benzes, knives, wrenches//Hotlines and suicide preventions//I fight in trenches, you hide behind fences” – Esoteric, Forever People
- “Catch him on stage, mad hype, with a trashed mic//Month later, in the gutter, glass pipe and a flashlight” – MF DOOM, Bomb Thrown
In one sentence… Supervillian MF DOOM reluctantly joins forces with hero CZARFACE to save the rap game from wack rappers.
Why? If you’ve never heard of Czarface: he consists of 7L, Esoteric and Inspectah Deck in a strange and deadly amalgam of all three entities. This album is underground rap at it’s finest. Each rapper is elite and carries their own specific style. DOOM fits in anywhere you put him and shines per usual not allowing the overbearing personalities of CZARFACE to outshine him. Deck and Esoteric both display the ability that allowed them to remain in the rap game for so long while 7L lays a haunting, comic book esque soundscape to match. One of my favorite albums this year and also one of the most underrated.
2. FM! by Vince Staples
Standouts: Feels like Summer, Don’t Get Chipped, FUN!
- “Still North Side, Parkside, Vince though – Feels Like Summer
- “Everybody say it’s lonely at the top//I want my homies at the top//My little homie, he got shot” – Don’t Get Chipped
- “We just wanna have fun//We don’t wanna fuck up nothin'” – FUN!
- “Christian Dior, I’m Crippin’ Bjork” – FUN!
In one sentence… Vince Staples perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to ride around Southern California bumping Hip Hop with the windows down and the sun shining.
Why? Vince delivered the album of the summer in November. This album immediately takes you into a droptop beside Vince cruising the streets of Long Beach listening to Big Boy’s Neighborhood. Fashioning the album around samples from Big Boy’s radio show pushes the theme along but it’s the beats and how Vince raps on them that makes this album work so perfectly. Switching flows from rapid fire, slow and daunting to singsongy, Vince rides whatever the beat gives him making this an unbelievably seamless project. Listening to this album really takes me back to a time when the radio was all we had for new music, listening to Big Boy on our way to high school.
1. DAYTONA by Pusha T
Standouts: If You Know You Know, Come Back Baby, Infrared
- “rich flair before they was Ric Flair’s//Cocaine concierge, longest runnin’ trapper of the year” – Come Back Baby
- “White on white, that’s the Testa//Black on black, that’s the Tesla” – Come Back Baby
- “Imagine me do-boy, you could never do what I do, boy//Still duckin’ shit that I did, boy” – If You Know You Know
- “We got the tennis balls for the wrong sport” – If You Know You Know
- “It was written like Nas but it came from Quentin” – Infrared
In one sentence… Tight, succinct and focused; this album is Pusha T at his finest.
Why? While Kanye’s shadow loomed over every G.O.O.D. Music release this year, Pusha is unquestionably the star of his own show. While I may not know exactly what Pusha means every time he raps about using tennis balls to transport drugs; I can tell you that King Push does those types of raps better than just about everybody. Come Back Baby has been trapped in my basketball pump-up playlist since the day it came out and the shots fired in Infrared incited a rap war of the kind we haven’t seen since 50 and Ja Rule traded barbs on the charts. Pusha took full advantage of his moment but only after he crafted the masterpiece that kick started it in DAYTONA…